Paula Rettl

Paula Rettl

Ph.D. candidate

Bocconi University

Welcome! I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Social and Political Sciences at Bocconi University (Milan). Between May and June 2022, I am a visiting researcher at Nuffield College at the University of Oxford.

My research lies at the intersection of political economy and comparative political behavior. More specifically, I am interested in understanding how global challenges affect domestic politics in general and political behavior in particular. In my research, I combine survey and administrative data with quasi-experimental designs and survey experiments to uncover causal relations and related mechanisms at aggregate and individual levels. Some of the themes my current projects investigate are the consequences of changes in trade patterns driven by the rise of China, increasing participation of women in the labor market, and environmental degradation.

In June 2020, I joined the Dondena Centre as a Research Associate for the ERC-funded LOSS project (PI: Catherine De Vries). The project analyzes how economic hardship fosters negative attitudes towards minority groups. I am also an affiliate at the COVID Crisis Lab.

Before starting my Ph.D., I worked at the OECD, UNU-CRIS, and the European Policy Center. I also earned a MA in European Affairs with a concentration on Politics and Public Policy from Sciences Po Paris and a BA in Geography from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).

Research projects

Export Shocks, Insurance Schemes and Political Behavior in Brazil

Abstract Economic shocks have important implications for political behavior. Yet, similar shocks lead to different political outcomes. The question is why. Combining insights from political behavior and public economics, I argue that reliance on either public or private insurance schemes helps explain heterogeneous political consequences of economic shocks. Examining three Presidential elections in Brazil, I find that the electoral response to export shocks in the 2010s varies at the regional level. By analyzing survey data, I show this is mainly due to Evangelicals and conditional cash transfers beneficiaries responding differently to the shock. These findings suggest that whether individuals and communities rely on welfare state benefits or church services to overcome economic hardship helps explain heterogeneity in the political consequences of economic shocks.

[Working Paper]

Presentations: MPSA 2020 (cancelled), MPSA 2021, Status Workshop at the University of Zurich (August 2020), Conference on Populism in Latin America and Beyond at the King’s Brazil Institute (March 2021), ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops (session on Populism and Democracy) (May 2021).

Words can hurt: how political communication can change the pace of an epidemic

with Lucas Mariani and Jessica Gagete-Miranda

Abstract Do cues from political elites influence their constituents’ decisions about personal matters, such as health behavior? If so, why? Leveraging on a combination of natural and survey experiments, we study how President Bolsonaro’s dismissive stance towards COVID-19 in Brazil influenced the behaviors and o pinions o f his opponents and supporters. First, we exploit Bolsonaro’s sudden display of skepticism towards COVID-19 in a differences-in-differences design. We show that municipalities with a concentration of his supporters witnessed higher mobility levels, excess hospitalization, and mortality in subsequent days. Second, results of two survey experiments indicate that these pat- terns are explained by Bolsonaro supporters following his cues and a backlash among his opponents. Heterogeneous exercises regarding participants’ performance in a cognitive test and the strength of their political social identity provide evidence of the mechanisms. While heuristics drive the reaction of Bolsonaro opponents, willingness to comply with group norms explains the reactions of his supporters.

[Most recent version] [CEPR]

Media coverage (in Portuguese): O Globo, Foro de Teresina, CNN Brasil, Jovem Pan, Revista Época.

Presentations: LACEA’s Impact Evaluation Network Webinar on Impacts of COVID-19 in Latin American and Caribbean, REAL (The Rangel Economic Analysis Lab) at Duke University, MPSA 2021, Dept. of Political Science at Washington University at St. Louis (2022), Leitner Political Economy Seminar at Yale Univeristy (2022).

Elections on Fire: The Effect of Fires on Political Behavior in Brazil

with Silvia Pianta

Abstract Forest preservation can play a key role in global climate mitigation efforts. As 60 percent of the Amazon and 12 percent of the total world’s forest area are located in Brazil, Brazilian voters are in a unique position to influence policies that can preserve the Amazon and to substantially contribute to the global fight against climate change. This paper investigates the impact of fires on political behavior in Brazil. Fires are often intentionally set for land grabbing and to expand land available for pasture and crops. However, fires can get out of control and spread much beyond what fire setters initially expected, affecting broad segments of the population that do not benefit economically from them. Fires can therefore be also expected to increase environmental concern and to shift political attitudes of the population by increasing the salience of the risks produced by environmental degradation. By exploiting exogenous variation in fires caused by weather conditions, we investigate whether fires increase support for green party candidates. We further examine how the impact of fires on political behavior is shaped by the local population’s reliance on the agriculture and livestock sector.

Draft available upon request

Presentations: Climate Pipeline Conference, ISA 2022, MPSA 2022.

An Anti-Feminist Backlash? Female Labour Market Participation and Gender Conservatism in Europe

with Simone Cremaschi and Catherine De Vries

Abstract This study examines how increased participation of women in the labor market affects egalitarian gender attitudes in society. We argue that increased female labor market participation might generate a anti-feminist backlash, because it triggers grievances for certain men and women. For men, increased female labor force participation intensifies competition in the labor market, especially among those who are already economically vulnerable (labor market compe- tition channel). For women, increased female labor force participation might be also be threatening when they are not financially independent or married and thus worry about the employment of men in their household (household accounting channel). We test these conjectures in two studies. The first study uses European Social Survey data to show the relationship between increased labor market competition of women and more gender conservative attitudes. The second study outlines a survey experiment that aims to examine how be- ing primed about the female labor force participation triggers labor market competition fears among men and women who are not financially independent or married. We conclude that increased labor market competition of women generated a backlash in Europe, but that this is not only driven by a male backlash, but also by certain women.

Draft available upon request

Presentations: MPSA 2022, to be presented at EPSA 2022.

Geographies of Resentment: How Public Service Deprivation Increased Populist Radical Right Support in Italy

with Simone Cremaschi, Marco Cappelluti and Catherine De Vries

Abstract Electoral support for populist radical right (PRR) parties is often linked to geographies of resentment with rural areas showing more support compared to urban ones. In this study, we argue that public service deprivation, defined as poor access to public services at the local level, increases the programmatic appeal of PRR parties. Public service deprivation signals to voters that public officials do not care about “their community” and makes them more susceptible to the rhetoric of PRR parties due to fears that poor access will be further crowded out by migrants. We examine our argument using three studies. We examine cross-sectional data from Italian municipalities (study 1), exploit a national reform forcing Italian municipalities below a certain population threshold to jointly share existing public services (study 2), and explore geo-coded individual-level panel data (study 3). Our findings on public service deprivation and the meaning that voters attach to it helps us to better understand why PRR support is higher in some rural or urban areas, but not in others.

Draft available upon request

Presentations: APSA 2021, MPSA 2022, Workshop on Theories of the Contemporary Divide in Western Societies at the EUI (2022), EUSA 2022.

The Political Consequences of Ageing Societies: Inter-Generational Polarization & COVID-19

with Catherine De Vries and Francesco Billari

Abstract Advanced industrial societies are undergoing an unprecedented societal transformation due to population ageing. The proportion of people of working age is shrinking as the share of older people is rapidly increasing. While age effects in political behavior and preference formation are well documented in the literature, we know much less about the political consequences of demographic changes. While demographic processes are generally slow, the COVID-19 pandemic has put intergenerational solidarity under strain. While mortality rates were much lower for younger generations compared to older ones, a significant part of the burden associated with non-pharmaceutical interventions fell on the young. In order to understand the extent to which long-term demographic changes and the immediate impact of COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to spark political conflict across generational lines, this paper develops a theory of intergenerational polarization. Our argument is that while population ageing has the potential to spark off political conflict across generational lines because it increases competition over public resources, but this only happens when a society’s age structure makes the mobilization of this resource competition electorally attractive for political entrepreneurs. During a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when public resources are scarce, the likelihood of inter-generational polarization increases. Empirical evidence from three empirical studies, examining existing survey data from over 20 European countries as well as novel experimental and textual data from the Italian context, supports our theoretical conjectures. The evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased intergenerational polarization in Italy and may have long-lasting consequences for intergenerational solidarity in other countries as well.

Draft available upon request

Presentations: EPSA 2021, EUSA 2022.

Work in progress

Churn or choice? Economic and policy motivations of bureaucratic turnover and the 2002 election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

with Tainá Souza Pacheco, Julio Ramos Pastrana and Anthony Michael Bertelli

Threat perceptions and anti-immigration attitudes

with Chiara Allegri

Funded by Fondazione Roberto Franceschi.


You can contact me at paula [dot] rettl [at]